Social media has been a great source of political awareness and awakening in Nigeria, yet it has shown capacity to be used as a means of causing political crisis, as…
●23rd March 2023
The social media has become a phenomenon in Nigeria. Traditional media used to be the rallying point for people who have opinions they wanted others to hear. However, traditional media is not very fluid. It does not transmit information in an instance. It was the domain largely of people who spend years training in the art and science of mass media communication. With traditional media, citizens were largely consumers of information rather than creators of it. The coming of social media has changed all these narratives. In the age of social media, citizen journalism has become a thing; the gatekeepers of the yesteryears have struggled to keep up, and news (many unverified and stale) fly around in seconds; there seem to be a more democratic media landscape this period due to the usage of social media. It is within this conflagration that the #EndSARS phenomenon was created.
One of the largest anti-government protests in Nigeria owes its planning and execution to social media. The #EndSARS campaign witnessed campaigners and organizers using Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp to organize venues for protest, solicit for funds, and callout authority in a way that has not been seen in recent times. The same social media vehicle was used to drive the local issues of police brutality which the campaign was about to the global stage, with solidarity coming from famous people across the world, including those fighting police brutality in other parts of the world.
So, yes, social media in Nigeria has become a force that the traditional media is learning to live with. How will you not learn to live with a tool that was infamously used to “recreate” the president of Nigeria, from Muhammadu Buhari to Jubril of Sudan, with such recreation sticking in the minds and hearts of very educated and enlightened Nigerians. How will you not live with a technology that turned hitherto less known individuals like the famous Twitter user, Daniel Regha, to socio-political opinion setters (including setting agenda for media houses), with hundreds of thousands of followers.
As a tool for political communication and campaigns, social media has helped enhance political engagement and interaction, and has become a meeting point for both political leaders and their followers, and between political office holders and those they govern. A citizen living in Agege, who may never have the opportunity of meeting Governor Sanwo-Olu can whip out his Chinese-made smart phone, and directly draw the attention of the Governor to a broken portion of the expressway in front of his compound via a tweet, and get a response from the governor, at least if he’s willing to give one. Governor Sanwo-Olu himself can reach out to millions of Lagosians who congregate in their hundreds on different WhatsApp groups about his plans for them upon his re-election as the governor of Lagos. The social media has been a ground for the instant dissemination of government plans and programs, and a source of feedback for same. Some government agencies like the Lagos State Traffic Management Agency (LASTMA) in Lagos have used Twitter to conduct polls that have led to policy actions.
While social media in Nigeria has become a tool for political engagement and participation, it has also become a tool for sinister intentions. In the just concluded general elections in Nigeria, supporters of various political parties ran hate campaigns and fake news using social media. Character smearing were seen in the ways candidates and their supporters were portrayed; unverified information about candidates travelled far and wide, thus colouring the perception of prospective voters. In many instances, the purveyors of some of these evil campaigns are people whose pedigree and public persona should have served to elevate them above such evil intentions, yet there is something about social media that makes already popular ones who use it ride on its wave, wherever it takes them, while the not-popular ones hide behind its anonymity to pour the most bile at those they engage with.
Social media and Nigeria have a love-hate relationship. Twitter was banned in Nigeria in June 2021 following what the government termed “activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence”. The ban was circumvented by those who used Virtual Private Network (VPN), and it was eventually lifted in January 2022. Several times, the idea of regulating social media has been suggested by the government, with no clear-cut resolve to push ahead. Social media has been a great source of political awareness and awakening in Nigeria, yet it has shown capacity to be used as a means of causing political crisis, as was witnessed in the last general elections. To keep it useful, those who undermine its use must be brought to justice by the authorities.
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